Is the ATP Cup the best place for Kei Nishikori to begin 2021?

Kei Nishikori has announced his planned schedule for his return to tennis in 2021. The Japanese star who turned 31 not long ago only played six matches last year on the tour due to a mixture of injuries and covid-19 which he was also struck down with.

Inconsistency and injuries have been a big problem for Kei over the years and it does have a feeling of now or never for the former US Open finalist.

Looking at the schedule he has released for himself I’m unsure whether it is the best preparation go on a good run having not played since September and just playing a handful of matches last year. His schedule is:

ATP Cup
Australian Open
Rotterdam
Marseille
Dubai
Miami

It is pretty heavy to come back to tennis but the big surprise for me is what he is planning on doing in Melbourne.

Playing the ATP Cup is a surprise for me, I don’t think it is probably the best warm-up event for Kei having played soo little tennis. The factor of the points and prize money on offer could be a big swing in his decision making but I’m thinking of him lining up against the best in mens tennis and for a first tournament of 2021 having played four tournaments in 17 months.

It would be a big indicator for Kei on where he is at but could be a bit of a confidence crusher if it doesn’t go to plan. Throughout his career I felt like he has been trying to find those missing pieces to catch-up with those higher than him but never has done that.

His last top 10 ranked win was at the ATP Finals in 2018 where he masterminded a stunning performance against Federer and followed it up less than 48 hour later losing 0-6 1-6 to Anderson, I find it bizarre.

I do think Kei has a lot of qualities and it is good to see him planning a schedule but I do think in his career he has made things tough for himself. He has a great record in deciding sets in a best of five format but a lot of it is just him making life difficult for himself and running out of steam.

At the 2014 US Open where he was runner-up en-route to the final he beat three top ten ranked players and one ranked between eleven to twenty but struggled on the big stages since.

US Open 2014 – Kei Nishikori

Top 10 Wins – 3-0
Top 10 Sets Won – 9-5
11-20 Wins – 0-1
11-20 Sets Won – 0-3

19 Grand Slam Events Since US Open 2014 – Kei Nishikori

Top 10 Wins – 3-11
Top 10 Sets Won – 15-35
11-20 Wins – 3-3
11-20 Sets Won – 14-10

For someone consistently in the top 10 it hasn’t been great despite the injuries he has had at Grand Slam or Masters 1000 level hasn’t delivered.

This will be the big question now, not only has he got Rafa and Novak to battle with still but these new guys like Thiem and Medvedev etc…

This is why I don’t think the ATP Cup is the best place to get momentum, its hard from the start and I’m not saying Kei isn’t up to it, I do hope he is but feeling in an ATP 250 or 500 would seem a bit more sensible. To go from five tournaments in seventeen months to go to potentially three top ten opponents in as many days is a big ask.

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